There is probably at least one person, if not a handful of people, that we don’t want to see during the holidays. Whether it’s that toxic sibling, the negative parent, or the grandparent who always needs to know why you’re still single, why you don’t live at home, or why you have so many tattoos.
The admonishments are uncomfortable and often serve as a reminder of all of the familial expectations you are not meeting. The toxic pattern continues relentlessly — every, single, year.
Boundaries are hard, especially when we live in intergenerational families that exist on a boundary-less foundation. You want something? Borrow it from your cousin, mom, sister etc. You want to go somewhere? Ask your mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, or the neighbour. You want to try something new? No one in the family has done it, so, no. Forming an identity outside of the collective family? Forget about it.
Boundaries are a way for us to separate our identity from the collective family and to define who we are, what we are comfortable with and how we want to be treated. But this isn’t always possible in South Asian households.
In most South Asian families, setting boundaries can feel like a foreign concept. When we think of our discomfort with boundaries it can be helpful to think about where this unease stems from. South Asian families are usually a collective bunch. We make decisions together; we solve problems together and we attempt to live in relative harmony together, often with many generations in the same house.
Our identities are tied to our families, so setting boundaries with them can make us both question who we are.
Am I a bad daughter if I put down a boundary with my parents? How can I be a good sister if I tell my sibling I need space?
When we think of the relationship between boundaries and our collective identity in South Asian households it’s no wonder that we struggle not just during the holidays, but all year long. Here’s the sad truth — boundaries are hard, but it won’t get any easier.
The sibling who is toxic might continue to be toxic next year and the year after that. The parents who constantly remind you you’re single will likely find something else to latch onto even when you do find a partner. Boundaries can be an opportunity for growth but it can be difficult to set them when we don’t see their potential value.
Some of us shy away from setting boundaries because we worry about how our loved ones will react. It’s important to remember that setting boundaries can be a learning opportunity for everyone.
If someone doesn’t understand our limits right away but is willing to work with you, use it as an opportunity to reflect and grow together. Boundaries can also be a litmus test, if someone ignores them completely, it might be time to re-evaluate that relationship.
Here are some simple ways to start setting boundaries:
- Say no. It seems simple, but it’s hard. If something is not bringing you peace, no is a full, assertive statement. Try saying no in small situations until you feel comfortable with bigger ones.
- If it’s safe to do so, share how you feel. Tell your grandma/mom/dad/aunt/neighbour that their constant reminder of your marital status, lack of a child, lack of a job or whatever it may be is hurtful. Discussing how you feel might help your family understand how the comments are impacting you.
- Conversation headed into dangerous territory? Walk away. I know it’s not always possible but if you can, get up from the dinner table, walk out of the kitchen, put down your cup of cha and leave. If the conversation doesn’t serve your higher self, give yourself permission to not be a part of the discussion. This goes for discussions about you and about anyone else in the family who for whatever reason is not up to snuff. It is important to not be a part of conversations that you yourself would not want to be the topic of, and to make that clear with your boundaries by walking away.
This can set the stage for helping those around you understand how you want to be treated.
The holidays are difficult. While our families may be well intentioned, juggling expectations and staying true to our authentic selves with families who have a preconceived idea of who we should be is incredibly hard.
Remember, you are deserving of your peace. Set those boundaries and honour who you are, which is more than just a daughter, son, wife, husband, sister, brother, grandchild. You are also your own person, and that’s the most important version of you.
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